Men hoping to avoid some side effects of prostate cancer treatment are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a procedure whose long-term effects are unknown and insurers, including Medicare, won’t pay for.
Proponents say high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) can have fewer negative side effects than surgery or radiation, while giving some patients another option between actively watching their cancer and those more aggressive steps. Critics, however, say the procedure is being oversold, leading some patients to get a treatment they don’t need.
Device makers are busy selling the $500,000-and-up machines to doctors around the country and offering training courses. Billboards advertising this “new non-invasive treatment for prostate cancer” are springing up, while treatment center websites promise “a safer method” with benefits such as “no erectile dysfunction and no incontinence,” although studies show those side effects can occur, but less often than with other types of more aggressive treatments. The treatment can range in cost from $15,000 to $25,000.